Was the Allied bombing of civilians during the WW2 justified

In answer to the question of justifying the bombing of civilians during the second world war, I will begin with tu quoque, they did it too; in fact I would argue that Germany and Japan started it.  Essentially, they reaped what they sowed.

Albeit not the SWW; but Germany introduced area strategic bombing during the Great War, first with the Zeppelin Raids, and then the Gotha raids. These attacks, as we know, caused little military damage, although they did keep many squadrons of aircraft back in Britain, along with anti-aircraft guns; but this was all in contravention of the rules of war.

In April 1937, Germany tested its bombing during market day at Guernica during the Spanish Civil War; deliberately targeting civilians.  According to Beatrice Heuser, in The Bomb, this caused as much outrage at the time, as the dropping of ‘the bomb’ on Hiroshima and Nagasaki does today.

Japan was much the same during the Sino-Japanese War, deliberately targeting civilians, for example, the systematic bombing of Wuhe, in which thousands of civilians died.

I mention these, as my theory is that the fuse to the SSW was lit in the 1930s, with the perfect storm of fascism in the west, and militarism in the far-east brewing.  Thus, we come back to the question of justifying the bombing of civilians during the SWW.

Franklin has mentioned the lack of accuracy of bombers during the SWW.  The American Norden bomb sight for example, quoted as being able to ‘drop a bomb in a pickle jar from 25,000”.  It could well do that as long as the pickle jar was five miles diameter.  The sheer practicality of being able to accurately bomb a military, or any other target, from high altitude was beyond the ability of the technology at the time.  Low level attacks attracted too high attrition.

During the Blitzkreig, Germany attacked many civilian centres, most notably Rotterdam; and targeted civilians to drive them to the front, thus cluttering up the roads. Initially however, both Germany and Britain avoided the strategic bombing of cities, until London was accidentally bombed by a lost Luftwaffe crew.  This opened the flood gates, with Hitler announcing that Germany would drop one hundred times more bombs on Britain than the RAF could on Germany.  Enter the Baedecker Raids.  Living near Exeter, one of the targets, my mother once commented that as a child, ‘she could see the sky fire red during those raids’.

I`m preaching to the choir here, sorry; but this is my justification regarding Germany.

Indeed, I read a document at Kew the other day, ‘the RAF Bombing Strategy 1942-43’.  In this, it was stated that area strategic bombing would systematically erode Germany`s ability to wage war.  The document included a list of which German cities were to be bombed in order to achieve this.  It wasn`t a list of military or industrial targets, but the cities themselves.  Dresden wasn`t on the list, which is why it would have been spared until Feb 1945.

Regarding Dresden, a document on David Irving’s book (on Dresden, located at Kew) included quotations from operational records books of the squadrons involved. The comments expressed, showed crews’ enthusiasm for bombing a military target after so many area bombing missions. (The German troops transiting through the city ahead of the advancing Russians). I suspect these could have been selective, but would have had to spend time looking for the ORBs.

This, I feel is a precis of why I justify the strategic area bombing of Germany.

Regarding Japan, I have a similar tu quoque attitude.  The naval blockade of Japan adding to the conventional aerial bombardment of Japan seriously eroded Japan’s ability to make war. I personally take this to a level that includes justifying the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, despite, according to Beatrice Heuser, senior American officers not thinking that it was necessary; with Curtis Le May saying that “the dropping of the bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war”.

The argument is that the bomb was mainly a political statement to Russia, with the cooling of relations and the beginning of the cold war.

I personally believe that Truman’s dirty hands decision to drop the Hiroshima bomb was the correct thing to do, given the options. This definitely targeted civilians, in the atomic destruction of the city.  That Nagasaki was devastated just three days later, Heuser agrees with my assessment that it was not necessary, mainly because the Japanese government did not have time to react following the previous nuclear attack. 

Thus, I would argue that the Nagasaki bomb was a war crime, and dropped to prove the weapon works, and it`s effects on effects people; as well as sending a clear signal to the Russians not to mess with American might.  That Stalin had spies in the Manhattan Project hadn`t at that time come to light, but his lack of surprise when told of the new weapon could have been his poker face, or his way of detracting from the power of Turman’s information.

So; like they say, it`s all fair in love and war; particularly when strategic area bombing during the SWW is concerned, that was using technology that could not deliver the accuracy of today`s weapons systems.